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In a Series of Announcements, an Abbott Agenda Emerges

Also, senators express skepticism about CPRIT, and the streak of a House iron man comes to an end.

The day before Greg Abbott was sworn in as governor, he met with his predecessor, Gov. Rick Perry, who marked the 1925 Pat N…

Gov. Greg Abbott continues to lay out guideposts on what to expect from his administration — a heavy emphasis on job creation and economic development.

That’s not altogether different from the program of his predecessor, Rick Perry. But Abbott’s moves thus far show he’s taking a different approach.

The big news on Thursday was the announcement that Comptroller Glenn Hegar was allowing a big incentive program housed in his shop — the Major Events Trust Fund — to move into the governor’s office.

That must get approval from lawmakers, and it’s always dicey predicting what the will of the Legislature will turn out to be. But having Abbott and Hegar push jointly for this realignment sets the odds of success in their favor.

Also of interest is Abbott’s desire to house the Major Events Trust Fund, which has been used to lure Formula One racing to Texas, for example, in his division of economic development and tourism.

Last week, Abbott announced a reorganization effort in his office intended to amp up the economic development division. In the new org chart, the Texas Film Commission, the Texas Music Office, the Women’s Commission and the Workforce Investment Council all report directly to the director of economic development.

The move was made “so that each of the agencies is sharply focused on advancing the governor’s job-creation agenda,” as Abbott’s office put it in a press release last week.

Also last week, Abbott said he would seek the elimination of the Emerging Technology Fund, an incentive fund envisioned by Perry to encourage bringing the results of university research to market.

In its place, Abbott would create a University Research Initiative, which is more tailored to helping universities lure research talent to their campuses.

Add to that his letter last week to agencies telling them to implement improved procurement processes immediately, and an Abbott agenda is emerging.

Broadly speaking, these efforts taken together suggest a move toward leveraging more strongly the resources of the governor’s office to encourage job creation and, when need be, to implement reform. At the very least, it looks like a shift from Perry's stronger emphasis on putting incentive money in private hands to encourage the creation of jobs.

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Meanwhile, some Senate budget writers gave the impression this week that they are having second thoughts about the state funding cancer research through the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The initiative had been plagued with problems over the selection of recipients for funding. Now that the problems have been largely ironed out, some senators said Tuesday at a meeting of Senate Finance that maybe they shouldn’t be in the cancer fighting business at all.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told CPRIT head Wayne Roberts that his defense of CPRIT's work sounded more like that of a state agency trying to justify its budget rather than an innovative organization that's supposed to eventually be self-sustaining.

"Your introduction, I could have shut my eyes and it would have sounded just like the other agencies trying to justify empire building," Whitmire said. “It’s just another big state agency, and I would suggest MD Anderson and the other health science centers are already doing a fine job.”

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A historic streak came to an end this week with the decision to move John Smithee from the chair of the Insurance Committee to lead the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee.

The Amarillo Republican had led the Insurance panel in every Legislature since 1993, a Ripkenesque run as chairman. According to figures kept by the Legislative Reference Library, Smithee’s 11 terms as Insurance chairman is the longest tenure ever recorded.

On the House side, the next longest tenure by a committee chair was Houston Democrat Al Edwards, who helmed the Rules and Resolutions Committee eight times.

Smithee’s record, though, could be threatened by Whitmire, who counts 10 sessions as chairman of Criminal Justice. His streak continues as he was tapped to lead the panel this session.

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